Physicians and oncologists who treat patients with advanced melanoma have new weapons in their fight against disease. Among the promising cancer treatments is immunotherapy, which kills cancer cells directly and stimulate the body's own immune system to fight cancer.
What is Immunotherapy?
Cancer immunotherapy is treatment that helps increase the immune system's ability to detect and attack cancer cells. The immune system protects your body from the outside, attacking infections caused by viruses and bacteria. It also works to destroy abnormal cells in your body, such as cancer cells.
Your immune system usually has the ability to distinguish healthy, normal cells from diseased cells so that it attacks only the diseased cells. In patients with melanoma, often the immune system sees the melanoma but does not recognize it as dangerous.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
Different types of immunotherapy work differently to fight melanoma. Immunotherapy can be systemic or local.
Systemic treatments travel through the bloodstream to reach all parts of the body. Cancer physicians use systemic immunotherapy to treat metastatic cancer, which is cancer that has spread from its original location to other areas of the body.
Local treatments are applied, usually by injection, directly to melanoma lesions. Local immunotherapy treatments work by infecting and killing melanoma cells in the treated lesions. They may also produce an immune response.
Watch Dr. Evan J. Lipson of Johns Hopkins Medicine discuss more on immunotherapy.
Latest Immunotherapy for Melanoma
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these new immunotherapy drugs:
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy), an anti-CTLA-4 antibody
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), an anti-PD-1 antibody
- Nivolumab (Opdivo), an anti-PD-1 antibody
- T-VEC (Imlygic), an oncolytic virus therapy
- Nivolumab (Opdivo) + Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in combination
- Aldesleukin (Proleukin), interleukin-2 (IL-2)
Watch Dr. Craig Slingluff discuss emerging immunotherapy options.
Since its founding in 2007, the Melanoma Research Alliance has awarded over $100 million to research aimed at better preventing, diagnosing, and treating melanoma. Learn more about our funded research.
Updated May 2016